Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 10 [fiction]

“Vree?” Grandma released my hand. “Are you okay?” She waved her other hand in front of my eyes as the remnants of the vision faded. “I seemed to have lost your attention for a moment.” Her face bore a concerned look.

“Tired,” I said, blinking and taking in the room that was my new bedroom.

“I need to finish supper and you should shower now,” Grandma said to me, standing. “We’ll eat as soon as everyone gets back.”

“Did everyone else go to the ER?” I asked, “Lenny, too?”

“No. He and Amy are in the kitchen. And I need to get back down there and make sure they haven’t burned anything. You, however, relax … take a nap after your shower. I’ll call you when it’s time to eat.”

Grandma picked up a gallon-size yellow plastic bucket that sat on my desk. She had cleaned up my vomit, probably when I’d been bawling into my pillow. Her shoes were soft against the stairs as she left me alone with my thoughts.

Bits of the vision still played in my mind. Had I glimpsed at a small piece of Grandpa and Grandma’s past? And what were all those references to magic and a child?

I needed to keep people from touching me.

A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts.

Lenny again.

I wiped my mouth with the backs of my hands in case any vomit lingered there, then told him to come up.

“I wanna give you something,” he said when he reached the top of the stairs. He faced me from the far side of the three-sided safety banister. “I was gonna do it earlier, but your grandmother…” He shrugged. “Well, you know.” He went to where his treasure lay buried and practically dived to the floor.

I stayed on my bed and watched him on the other side of the wooden banister. “What is it? You already gave me that weird book.”

“Things are gonna get weirder before this day is over.”

Weirder?

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Lenny took a small, brown paper sack from inside the floor and emptied its contents in his left hand. Then he returned the sack and floorboard, came to me, and dangled a necklace in front of my face. An arrowhead carved from gray flint hung from a delicate gold chain.

“It’s real,” he said, unclasping the chain. “I got it when I visited a Seneca Indian reservation in New York. Turn around so I can put it on you.”

“Why?”

“Arrowheads are powerful forces against witches,” he said. “It won’t protect me because I’ve been cursed. But it will protect you … just in case.”

“In case of what?”

“Margga likes hurting the people we…”

“Love?”

“Yes.”

My heart quickened. Lenny did not show any embarrassment about his admission. I turned away from him and he fastened the necklace around my neck after he brushed my hair out of the way.

“Just keep that arrowhead on you at all times today … especially tonight,” he said, going to the stairs.

“What happens tonight?” I hurried from my bed and practically pinned him against the banister. “What kind of danger are we in, Lenny? You need to tell me.”

“I don’t have time. My dad’s picking me up in a few minutes.”

“You’re leaving?”

“I have to. It’s almost six o’clock. She’ll kill me if I’m anywhere near Myers Ridge.” Lenny took my shoulders and gently pushed me away from him. White light glowed between us when he did.

It vanished when he released me.

He looked at his hands, stunned.

“Did you see that?” he asked.

I had, but one of my DVD cases fell over on my desk and interrupted my reply. At first, I saw nothing amidst the boxes and movies there. Then, a white crow materialized and perched on one of the brown cardboard boxes on my desk. I yelped, surprised and worried as its eyes glowed as red as burning ember.

“You’re him,” Lenny said.

I stepped away from my desk and pointed an accusing finger at the crow. “You can see that?” I asked Lenny.

“Enit Huw.” He drew closer to my desk. “Gam Gam told me about you,” he said, addressing the crow and growing more excited. “You’re the soul of time—past, present, and future. You appeared twice to Gam Gam. This is your third appearance. Now you bring hope for healing and new beginnings in life. You’re the sign of Margga’s end.”

“Someone has released the book of enchantment and opened it,” the crow said in a raspy voice. It cocked its head at me. “You! You have begun freeing the dancers of truth. You must continue so that you may know their poetry.”

Free the dancers of truth so that you may know their poetry. “That was in the book,” I said to Lenny.

“The sentries are watching you,” the crow said, its head still cocked at me. “They smell and taste your energy. They will report their findings and she will try to destroy you.”

“Are you talking about Margga?” I asked. “Margga and me?”

The crow cocked its head at Lenny and said, “The girl’s energy is unharnessed, chaotic, and exciting the witch’s spirit even now in the depths of Yalendora. The spirit feeds off chaos and will grow stronger when she returns. The girl must harness her energy or the spirit will consume it and turn this place to darkness again. If this comes to pass, her curse will include many, if not the whole world.”

“What can we do?” Lenny asked.

The crow turned an eye at me. “Harness your energy and free the dancers of truth.”

“Dancers?” I recalled how the numbers and symbols in the book had moved—danced—when they changed into words. “You want me to read that book of poetry Lenny gave me?”

Lenny lifted the weird black book from my desk. “This book?”

“Yes, the book of enchantment. The girl and the book are one. She must unlock the spell that will save us all.” The crow cocked its head at me. “You have been warned, Verawenda Erickson. Take heed. You must choose whether to live or die.”

Wait! “Choose whether to live or die? What does that mean?”

“I shall return soon for your answer.”

I started to protest more but the crow vanished.

Lenny sucked in a breath and picked up a long tail feather from atop the box. “A feather from Enit Huw.” His eyes were wide with amazement.

“What did it mean I must choose whether to live or die?” I asked.

Lenny went to my bed and sat, holding the book and feather on his lap.

“What did it mean I must choose whether to live or die?” I asked again.

“What?” He looked up at me. His eyes glistened. The amazement had left his face, replaced by one I knew well every time I looked in a mirror. “They could’ve lived. My Gumpa, Mom, Gam Gam. It’s all my fault. The enchantment Gam Gam looked for to end Margga’s curse was this book. And I had it all along.”

A car horn outside my window stopped me from asking any more questions.

Lenny stood and placed the book and feather on my bed. “This changes everything. I have to tell my family about it. In the meantime, read the book, Vree. I’ll be back before sundown.” He hurried past me, then stopped and came to me and planted a kiss on my forehead. “This is wonderful,” he said before he turned and hurried downstairs.

Wonderful? How?

I stood at the top of the stairs for several minutes before I resigned trying to make sense of what had happened.

A shower would relax me, so I went downstairs to the large bathroom next to Dave’s bedroom. The light switch revealed a roomy place painted gold, which added to the bright illumination from a makeup mirror above a black porcelain sink to the left of the door. I found an unpacked box of our toiletries on the sink’s black porcelain counter. Mom’s creams, lotions, powders, makeup, and bath oils and salts were inside, along with Amy’s and my less expensive ones. My purple T-shirt pajamas of Snoopy was there, too, which had somehow survived the fire and smelled of Mom’s sunflower and sunshine laundry detergent … and Daddy’s cologne. I found his bottle of Polo Black at the bottom of the box and held it close to my nose, remembering him before the lightning killed him and changed me.

Out of my shoes and socks, my feet welcomed the cool relief of the cream tiled floor. I locked the door and crossed the room to a black bathtub with two sliding frosted glass doors. I turned on the water via the two ivory handles and adjusted the temperature to my liking. There, I stripped, found shampoo and two fluffy towels next to the tub, stepped inside, closed the sliding doors, and plunged my head beneath the shower’s pulsating stream of warm water. When I stood up straight, something cold touched between my breasts and caused me to yelp.

Lenny’s arrowhead necklace—I still wore it.

I thought about removing it, then changed my mind and let as many memories and thoughts fade from the foreground of my mind. Coconut scented shampoo and soap that smelled like cocoa butter washed away sweat and left me feeling cleaner than I had since waking from my coma.

The arrowhead thumped cold against my chest again. I took a closer look at it. It didn’t look special, other than it was obviously handmade. I considered again removing it as I slid open the shower door and stepped from the tub. When I reached for a towel, they were gone. So were my clothes. White cabinets had replaced the dark oak ones above the toilet that had been black, and green linoleum with white and yellow daisies covered the floor.

Daddy opened the door and stuck his head inside.

“How bad is the cut?” he asked me. “Have you stopped the bleeding?”

I stumbled backwards and put my arms around myself to hide my nakedness. Only, I wasn’t naked. I wore a dry white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. Green tennis shoes with yellow shoestrings covered my feet. They and my clothes were covered with splatters of light blue paint. So were my arms.

“You’re gonna get infected if you don’t clean that wound,” Daddy said as he entered. He wore a white dress shirt open at the collar and black slacks held up with thin, black suspenders. I stumbled when he took me by an arm and led me to an ordinary-looking white sink and counter where pieces of broken glass littered the water-stained basin.

“Open your hand and let me have a look,” he said. He held my right hand, pulled open my fingers, took away a piece of glass, and dropped it in the basin. Blood dripped from where the glass had sliced my palm and fingers. I felt no pain.

I looked up at the mirror. I had no reflection and it startled me.

“What’s happening?” I asked. “You said you were leaving. Where are we?”

“Come,” he said.

“Where to?”

“I’ll fix you up.” He led me to the bathtub as plain as the sink. We knelt together and he ran warm water over the cut. I felt sickened as I watched my blood swirl down the drain. I pulled away.

“Relax,” Daddy said, taking my injured hand again.

“What happened to me?” I asked. “Why am I bleeding?”

He made hushing sounds and said, “Stop talking nonsense, Becca. I’m trying to look at your cut.”

I looked across the room and saw that I had a reflection now. The short-haired, brown-haired woman in the mirror had a round, pleasant face. She looked at me with dark but kind-looking eyes.

I turned my head slowly from side to side. So did the woman in the mirror, matching every move. Then she looked away while my gaze remained fixed on her image in the mirror.

“I was trying to hurry before the first storm,” she said. “You know how much I hate lightning … and being in this house, so close to the property next door.”

“The weatherman says sixty percent chance of clear skies tonight,” Daddy said, though his voice’s pitch seemed to change before he finished the sentence.

“We never have clear skies on Myers Ridge during Margga’s curse,” the woman said. “Let’s take the kids out of town tonight. We can stay at my parents’ camp overnight.”

Daddy’s grip tightened around my hand beneath the tub’s faucet. A man’s voice I didn’t recognize came from him.

“I’ll try to convince my mom to come along,” he said. “But you know she won’t wanna go. And I won’t leave her by herself.”

“Then I’ll take the kids and leave you two here.”

“Or you could stay and help us find the enchantment.”

“Please, Howard … we don’t know what the enchantment is.”

“The crow told Mom that we’d know it when we found it. I won’t give up helping her look. She says the special one is almost here … that she could come tonight. If so, and without the enchantment, Margga’s curse will continue.”

This time, the woman said nothing.

I looked away from the mirror and tried to pull my hand away, but the man’s grip held fast.

“You’re not my daddy,” I said to the man who looked like my father, “so I’m gonna leave now.”

His grip continued to hold tight, so I pushed him hard and yanked my hand from his. As he fell inside the tub, I pushed away and ran.

Outside the bathroom, I hurried down the hall, found the stairs, and flew down them, my feet barely touching the steps.

Downstairs, my feet found a solid floor of unfamiliar carpet. I tore through the living room filled with furniture that must have belonged to the people in the framed photographs I passed. I saw the woman in two of the photos—large studio shots done professionally. She stood next to an unknown man behind three girls and a boy in the last one. The boy looked like Lenny, but several years younger.

I called for my mom and grandparents as I ran through the dining room, to the kitchen that looked unchanged from Grandma Evelyn’s. No one was there.

I fled to the backdoor and entered a white blank sea of nothingness. I stood on the nothingness and saw nothing. I turned around and saw the house was gone.

Something cold touched the center of my chest. I almost screamed until Grandma and Grandpa’s bathroom appeared around me. I stood outside the shower. My reflection in the mirror showed my true self: frightened, naked and cold.

Had I had another vision? If so, it’d been a lot weirder than the others.

Water from the showerhead struck the bathtub behind me. I turned off the shower, wrapped my body in a fluffy towel from the rack, wrapped my wet hair in the other towel, and hurried to the locked door. The fancy sink next to me held no broken glass, which sent a shiver across my back before I unlocked the door and headed to my bedroom.

*.*.*

Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 9 [fiction]

The woman’s scream in my head diminished. The sickness in my stomach did not.

“I need to lie down,” I said, bolting from the porch swing and charging into the house.

The soles of my tennis shoes pounded against the steps as I hurried up the two flights of stairs to my bedroom.

I would have screamed when I entered the room had I not been out of breath.

My father stood next to my empty easel. A white glow surrounded him. Only his face was definite; it smiled out at me.

How could this be? He was dead.

“You’re a ghost,” I said.

“You haven’t painted anything new since your coma,” he said.

I swiped at hot tears blurring his image. I wasn’t ready for any more strangeness. “NonononononoNO.” I staggered to the edge of my bed and sat.

Daddy reappeared at my bedside, looking down at me. His head nearly grazed the slanted ceiling. His Nordic DNA had made him very tall.

“Are you really a ghost?” I asked, trying to make sense of what I saw. “Or am I having another vision?”

“I’m spirit, Vree, honey, just like when we talked when you were comatose. Your mind has connected to the astral plane and the vibrations of my energy again. But this time you have not projected like you did in your coma. This time, you have called me.”

“Why?”

“You wanted to tell me goodbye.”

“You’re leaving?”

“I am. I have gone to the light and came back to say goodbye. But returning to this plane takes a lot of energy. I cannot stay.”

“Where are you going? Heaven?”

“If that is what you want to call it.” The light around him began to fade. “I have to go. But before I do, I want you to remember to stay with the light.”

“What light?”

“Your light. You’re psychic. You can see and hear and do things no one else can. And so much more.”

“I don’t wanna be psychic. I wanna be normal. I want things the way they used to before lightning changed everything.”

“When you’re feeling down and unsure about your path, see the light and let it come to you. The light will strengthen you when things are darkest.”

“Wait,” I cried out as Daddy’s spirit dulled and vanished.

“Come back,” I said, wishing I could have hugged him.

Large tears rolled down my cheeks and dripped on my hands clenched in my lap. I fell back on my bed, not wanting to face the weird and creepy world beyond my bedroom. Not ever.

Dave called from the bottom landing and told me to come downstairs to eat.

“I’m not hungry.” I stared at the ceiling. Daddy was gone. I never told him how sorry I was for causing his death. Was that why he’d left without saying he loved me?

“Hurry up,” Dave called, his voice closer. “We’re hungry.”

Pushing from the bed, I rose to all my height and shouted at the ceiling. “YOU NEVER SAID YOU LOVE ME.”

Without warning, my stomach buckled. I needed to vomit.

I charged the stairs and into my brother who had climbed the stairs and stood at the top step.

I halted but Dave lost his balance. He grabbed hold of the railing on his right to keep from tumbling down the steps. His momentum swung his body and slammed his right shoulder into the wall. There was loud cracking sound before he lost his grip and thudded to a stop halfway down the steps.

“Why can’t you watch where you’re going?” he cried out. He touched his shoulder and cried out more, using some offending words to describe me and my clumsiness.

I turned, fell to my hands and knees, and vomited on the floor.

Bile rose in my throat a second time but I held the sour liquid down.

My hair mingled in the vomit; its ends painted wet streaks across the wood when I moved my head.

Someone touched my back—my mother—and asked if I was okay.

I nodded and hid my face. I wished to be whisked through time and space to when my childhood had been happiest, to when Dave, Amy and I were happy together, to when Daddy gave us piggyback rides, read Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua books to us, tucked us in bed at night and told us how much he loved us.

“We’re taking your brother to the hospital for x-rays,” Mom said. “Clean up your mess and take a shower. Make sure you wash your hair. Okay?”

I nodded again.

“She pushed me,” Dave said at the bottom of the stairs.

“I’m sure it was an accident,” Grandpa said.

“I don’t know what happened to cause this,” Mom said to me in her I’m-angry-but-can’t-show-it-right-now voice, “but you can’t let your emotions control your actions.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“You can tell me about it when we get back … after you shower, and after we eat and have time to relax from our long day.” Mom started down the stairs. She stopped and turned around. “I know it’s been a big change for all of us, but you need to accept the fact that although change is scary, it’s important to adapt to it.”

“I know,” I said. “But sometimes I need a hug and … well, you’ve been so busy lately, and Dave and Amy treat me like I have cooties.”

“Cooties? Really, Vree, you’re not a little girl.”

“You know what I mean.”

“We’ll talk about this later.”

Mom descended the stairs. Somewhere downstairs, a door closed. Outside, three doors of a vehicle closed. The vehicle drove away and the house, inside and out, grew silent. I went to my bed and collapsed, bawling into my pillow until my sobs became dry heaves.

I sensed someone in the room, smelled Grandma Evelyn’s perfume before she sat on the bed, put an arm around my shoulders, and hugged me. Her affection quieted my sobs.

“If you need to talk,” she said, “you can come to me anytime, day or night.”

I sat up and leaned into her embrace. “You asked earlier if I’d had any visions,” I said between my sniffles. “Why is that?”

“Because lightning struck me too.”

Whoa! “Really? When?”

“I was nine years old, down on the backside of Alice Lake, fishing with my dad one summer day. I never knew what happened until after I awoke in his arms. He was crying, and he nearly broke me in half when he hugged me.” Grandma tightened her embrace around my shoulders. “I still remember my confusion and the pain after I was struck. The lightning had burned my back where it hit me. I was numb and couldn’t walk, so my dad carried me to his truck and drove me home. For several weeks, I had strange dreams and I thought I saw ghosts. I even saw strange-looking dogs prowling the grounds.”

“Were they big and black with red eyes and bull horns on their heads?”

Grandma loosened her embrace. “You too, huh? Well, they’re not real. They’re visions caused by your brain healing from the lightning. You’ll stop seeing them after a while, just like I stopped seeing them.”

“Don’t you find it odd that we’ve both seen them?” I asked.

“It’s all part of the healing process.” Grandma took my right hand in her left one.

That’s when she and my bed and the bedroom vanished

I tried to be my quietest when I closed the apartment’s front door, but the click of the latch seemed like a gunshot. I held my breath as I leaned my forehead against the door’s cool wood. Would Trevor awaken this very moment and find me gone? Or would Balen awaken in his crib and alert his father that I had abandoned them?

What sort of mother abandons their baby?

I held the doorknob in my grip and willed myself not to cry. Not now. There would be plenty of time to cry later. Now was a time to be levelheaded and leave before I changed my mind.

All my young adult life had been spent running away from my past, searching for the real me. Trevor had been certain living a life of magic would be best for me. But when Balen levitated the lamp last night, I knew I would never be comfortable with that kind of life.

I released the knob, crept down the stairs to the double glass doors of the vestibule, and entered the seven a.m. crawl of college students, professors, and campus workers along Maple Boulevard. I turned away from faces and automobiles that looked familiar and hurried to and out the black iron front gate of New Cambridge University. I buttoned my green wool coat to keep out the March wind blowing at me while I pressed on toward the bus station two blocks away. Once I made it to the bus station and had my ticket to Bakers View, I would call Sara and let her know I was on my way. Going home was out of the question. Would father ever forgive me for leaving our faith, falling in the traps of magic, becoming pregnant out-of-wedlock, and dropping out of the religion classes that he had paid for?

The Greyhound bus station was dimly lit but warm. My bus was scheduled to leave in fifteen minutes. Would Trevor know I was here?

I sat in the hard plastic seat near the loading doors, stared at the snack vending machine next to the cigarette machine, and wished I had brought some nickels and dimes with me. But I had put all my coins in Balen’s piggy bank last night, and the billfold in my purse contained only a few bills left from my last paycheck from O’Brien’s Bar.

A tall young man exited the phone booth next to the cigarette machine and dropped a white piece of folded paper. He seemed unaware of the paper on the dark tile floor. Was it important?

“You dropped something,” I said to him.

He looked at me with pleasant eyes that seemed as black as the long, wool duffel coat he wore. Unlike other men his age, his dark brown hair was short and he sported no sideburns or beard of any kind.

I pointed a forefinger at the paper. He held his gaze on me and his expression turned to curiosity and then to recognition.

“Evelyn Doyle. Hey, it’s me, Jack Lybrook.”

I flinched at the mention of my name. “Do I know you?”

“We went to Ridgewood High, though you were a grade behind me. And my parents and I used to go to your dad’s church for a while when you and I were kids. I was Jonathan … or Johnny back then.”

I nodded as recognition sunk in. Many boys had gone to my father’s Pentecostal church, but only Johnny Lybrook and few others had ever whispered to their friends how pretty I was.

“I go by Jack now,” he said. “You know, like JFK did.”

The clock above the loading doors told me that only five minutes had passed since my arrival. I looked again at the folded paper on the floor.

“You dropped that,” I said, pointing again.

“My notes. Thank you.” Jack fetched the paper and sat next to me. “Just got back from Ridgewood. I’m looking to buy some farm property there … maybe start a dairy farm.”

“Are you a student at New Cambridge?” I had never seen him there, but most of my time was spent with Trevor, and now Balen.

“I was,” Jack said. “Graduated last year … agriculture with a minor in business. I’m on my way to my parents’ place. My car’s in the garage.” He raised an eyebrow. “You?”

I looked around. Except for the man at the ticket window, it was just the two of us. I broke down and wept. I felt Jack’s arms around me. I welcomed his comfort and tried to hide inside his embrace. He hushed my sobs, wiped away my tears with a handkerchief, and held me until a man’s voice announced over the intercom that it was time to board the bus to Bakers View and points east of New Cambridge. Once aboard, I would forever leave behind the wizard and the thirteen-month-old son whose magic was stronger than mine and Trevor’s combined.

“That’s me,” I said, pointing at the loading doors.

Jack stood when I did. “You’re not a student?”

“I dropped out. On my way to my sister’s. Her husband doesn’t like me much.”

I don’t know why I told him that.

“Wait,” he said. “Join me for a cup of coffee.”

I shook my head.

“Cash in your ticket,” he said, “have coffee with me, and I’ll drive you anywhere you need to go.”

“Your car’s in the garage.”

He checked his wristwatch. “For another hour. Come on. It’ll save you some bread and give us a chance to catch up on old times.”

There was honesty and safety with this man’s kindness. I took his hand and let him lead me to the ticket window. Then, with the refunded cash in my purse, I went with him for coffee, vowing to myself to never involve myself with magic again.

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 8 [fiction]

The air tasted sweet and was warm as I sat on the front porch swing and rocked. Past a small rise in the road, a dark blue house across the road sat on a large hill almost two hundred yards up the road. It was a pretty house, more modern looking than the one I was at, surrounded by evergreen hedges by what I could see through the foliage between us.

Lenny entered the porch from the living room and stood at the front door. I ignored him, wishing to be alone with my thoughts.

He pointed at the house I looked at. “My dad and sisters and I live there,” he said. “My Gam Gam owned that house—this one too—until she died and willed them both to my dad.”

I sighed and halted the swing. “Why are you following me?” I asked.

“It wasn’t intentional. After I helped your grandfather, I kept getting in the way inside the kitchen, so I left. But I didn’t wanna be by myself.”

“So it was intentional.”

Lenny shrugged. “Is it okay if I sit with you?”

I scooted over. “I notice you never talk about your family,” I said.

As he sat to my right, the wistful look returned for a moment. He shrugged and said, “My dad’s the high school art teacher, my big sister lives at the lake, and my two little sisters are over there now, helping her run our mom’s restaurant.”

“Your mom owns a restaurant. How cool is that? Does she give you free food?”

“She’s dead.”

Crap!

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay. Everyone has something lousy in their lives to deal with. It’s just nice to have friends around when we do.” Lenny stood up and took a box of chewing gum from a back pocket.

I accepted one of the sticks of Juicy Fruit from him. It was the original flavor, not strawberry or cherry or bubble gum, which are my favorites.

He sat down closer to me, and we chewed in silence. I played with my gum’s wrapper until I couldn’t stand the silence.

“Sorry about my behavior out back, but…” How could I tell him what I’d seen and heard without coming across as a lunatic?

“I get it,” he said. “When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

“Go?” What was he talking about?

“To the bathroom.”

Oh. Yeah. “No. I saw something … been seeing something I can’t explain.”

“A big black dog with horns and red eyes?”

I shivered. “You too?” I wasn’t crazy. “What is it? How can it disappear like that?”

“Margga.”

There was that name again. I raised an eyebrow. “The dog’s name is Margga?”

Lenny leaned forward, put his forearms across his knees, and stared ahead. His muscular back and shoulders seemed to harden. “I hate her,” he said, his voice low and growling. He sat up straight and said, “You’re gonna find out about Margga’s curse sooner or later, so I may as well tell you a few things.”

Curse?

“It started at the property behind us, a long time ago when my great-grandparents mysteriously died.”

I turned to look at the property behind us, but changed my mind when Lenny began swinging the swing by pushing his feet off the porch floor.

“My great-grandfather, Reginald Myers, was a famous Broadway playwright and Hollywood screenwriter. He and his wife lived in a big Victorian house at the property next door, before my Gumpa and Gam Gam had it razed.” Lenny put an arm across the back of the swing, which placed me in a faux embrace with his arm behind me. I thought about moving closer to him but he took his arm away, stopped swinging the swing, and sat forward with his forearms across his knees and his gaze fixed ahead again. “Gam Gam claimed she destroyed the house because she found my great-grandfather and his two hunting dogs frozen inside the house on a sweltering July evening. She also said she found my great-grandmother dead at the bottom of the cliffs on Myers Ridge, at a place called Widow’s Ravine. A witch named Margga killed them.

“Since then, my great-grandfather’s ghost returns on this night. So do the ghosts of his two hunting dogs. But the creepy part is people have seen a third dog—sometimes a fourth and more—all of them black, with horns and red eyes. Gam Gam called them Margga’s hellhounds and told me to always stay away from them.”

Lenny turned and looked at me. His gaze was hard and serious. The air around me felt chilly.

“There’s more,” he said, lowering his voice to almost a whisper.

“More?” The air seemed to get colder. I shivered.

“Yes.” He leaned close and took my right hand in his. Dizziness and the sound of bees buzzing everywhere overwhelmed me. The world around me changed and—

I ran. I ran from the house where I had discovered my husband and his hunting dogs frozen inside the living room. I tried to block the image of how surprised his dead face looked, as though he had realized seconds before his death that he was dying.

I ran across the front lawn, toward Myers Road, stumbling where it connected to the blacktopped driveway, and falling when I entered the old country highway scarred with long grooves made by the metal wheels of Amish buggies. Blood from my nose dripped into one of the tracks and reflected the backlit clouds in a sky that had once been sunny and promising a pleasant night.

The witch’s curse was upon me.

I stood and ran again for my life.

Rolling gray clouds blocked the sunlight when I entered the angry field of brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed at me, scratched my face and forearms, tore away long, black strands of my hair, and slashed my brand new Rayon dress—the blue gray one with lace collar and ivory buttons. The tangled growth grabbed and stole my chunky non-strap pumps from my feet, causing me to fall. I hurried upright, glanced back only once at the house, and left my shoes as I continued to flee from the witch who lived next door.

I found the path that led to and past the rocky cliffs above Myers Creek. Once I made it beyond Lovers Leap and Widow’s Ravine, the hill would become less steep and lead me to Russell Road and the sheriff’s house. I prayed he would be home. There, I would call my daughter, Adrienne, at New Cambridge’s college campus to come get me and take me away from Ridgewood and Myers Ridge for good.

I was glad Reginald had taught Adrienne how to drive an automobile.

As I approached Lover’s Leap, I saw that it was still fenced in with bars of iron piping; there was little chance of falling. But someone had removed the pipes at the section overlooking Widow’s Ravine. The path came so dangerously close to the edge there. One little slip and I could tumble over the side and fall to the rocky creek below.

That’s when I felt the witch’s presence behind me, and felt the sudden push from right to left, as though a giant invisible hand had brushed me aside like an insect, veering me off course and sweeping me over the edge of Widow’s Ravine.

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 7 [fiction]

I stayed close to Lenny, who guided me across the backyard. Along the way, I stopped at a line of three large, bleached canvas camp tents in front of a square fire pit made of cement blocks.

“Some of the bedrooms aren’t done yet, so your grandfather thought everyone would enjoy sleeping outside,” Lenny explained next to me.

“A campout. Sweet,” I said, recalling times of camping with Daddy. “But I’ve never slept in a tent before. We always rented cabins.” Then, “Are you gonna spend the night with us?”

Lenny shrugged in the sunshine and looked wistful, as if something troubled him. “I can’t tonight,” he said, leading me from the tents. “It’s gonna rain. Plus, it’s my birthday … my dad has other plans.”

I wished him a happy birthday and asked, “How old?”

“Fifteen.”

“Me too.”

“I know. Your grandparents told me.”

“So, fifteen and tenth grade,” I said, fishing for more information about him.

“Yep.”

“Maybe we’ll have classes together.”

“Probably.”

“That’d be nice,” I almost said. I bit my lower lip to keep from showing my excitement of knowing that we’d be together at school.

“Here we are,” he said as we entered the ordinary looking field of wild grasses and flowers.

“Where are the blueberries?” I asked, looking around.

“We’re standing in them.”

I bent over. Short clumps of both ripe, plump, light-blue blueberries, and unripe, tiny green and white ones grew among the weeds at my feet. I had expected to see even rows of large, cultivated bushes with fat berries and no weeds anywhere, like at the berry picking farms in Pittsburgh.

“I’ll getcha started,” Lenny said.

Following his instructions, I knelt low to the ground and picked the bluest berries. Lenny headed right, so I went left, pushing weeds aside in search of the ripest berries for Grandma’s pies.

I had my bowl halfway filled when I heard a cat meowing nearby. An orange, mangy tabby ran to me when I looked up and rubbed its body back and forth against my knees, purring loudly. I hesitated to pet the cat. Pus oozed from its closed right eye, which the cat rubbed repeatedly against my pants.

The cat was definitely malnourished and sick, and its cries were steady and weak. Its body trembled.

“You poor thing,” I said, still hesitant to touch the animal. “Would you like me to get you some milk? My cat loved milk. His name was Perry Mason, but he died when lightning burned down our home.”

The cat had quit rubbing its sore eye and now looked at me with its healthy yellow-green one. It still trembled and meowed pitifully.

“I’m sorry you’re so sick. I wish there was something I could do to make you better.”

I turned to Lenny who stooped low and picked berries at the far edge of the patch, thirty yards away. I wanted to ask him if there was a vet on Myers Ridge, but the cat hissed and ran off, disappearing into the taller field grass at the edge of the woods.

I decided that if the cat returned, I would use the rest of my birthday money to get it to a veterinarian. Then I returned to picking berries until my bowl was full. When I stood, the sound of buzzing bees filled my head and made me dizzy. I dropped to my knees as nausea fell over me. The air rippled around me. Across the way, a black beast the size of a pony stood a few feet behind Lenny and watched him pick berries.

My weakened state kept me from calling out, to warn Lenny of the Rottweiler I had seen in my vision.

Was that what this was? Another vision?

The air stopped rippling. The buzzing continued but my head and stomach settled. The dog turned and faced me with flaming red eyes like the ones I had seen across the road and downtown. An inch or two above its eyes were two long and sharp ivory horns that reminded me of cow horns, though they pointed out, not up. A shorter horn poked straight down from the center of its chin. It bared sharp teeth at me, and I emitted a small yelp as I recoiled backwards, both startled and frightened. Berries from my bowl scattered to my lap and the ground. I looked up at the dog’s grotesque face, its stare still focused on me. My breath and the voice I tried using to call out to Lenny for help felt locked in my throat.

The buzzing in my head turned into a sudden scream for a second. Then it quieted, but not completely. A masculine voice similar to the one downtown entered my mind.

Can it see?

I swallowed and caught my breath, but otherwise remained still.

Do you see?

I winced from the anger in the dog’s tone. Then I nodded when I realized it had spoken to me. “Yes. I see.” My voice cracked. I cleared my throat and caught my breath again. “I see you. Yes.” My voice was barely above a whisper.

You see blood?

Blood? I looked hard at the creature. It didn’t appear to be bleeding. “Please don’t hurt me,” I managed to say.

You see blood!

“No. No blood.”

I thought I heard it squeal as it vanished.

The buzzing stopped. I scooped up my bowl and hurried past Lenny. “I’m going in now,” I said when he called for me to wait for him. I walked as fast as I could with legs that felt rubbery and shaky, and I let the wooden screen door slam shut behind me as I rushed indoors to Grandma’s bright yellow kitchen.

“Lenny’s bringing the rest of the berries,” I said out of breath to the quizzical looks I received when I passed Mom at the refrigerator and handed Grandma my bowl. “I’m taking a shower,” I added and held up my stained hands, “if that’s okay.”

“That’s fine, honey,” Grandma said from in front of her large white stove. “But you’ll want to wait about fifteen minutes until the last load of laundry is done washing. Our pump can handle only one job at a time.”

I looked at my blue fingers. “But what about my hands?”

“I already have a solution for that.” Grandma put an arm around me and led me to the kitchen’s aluminum sink. “Cornmeal, toothpaste and lemon juice works wonders on blueberry stains.” She put my bowl of berries in the sink, then scooped her fingers in a yellowish paste in a ceramic cereal bowl on the windowsill and rubbed it on my hands. “Just let this sit for a few minutes, then wash it off with warm water.”

She wiped the paste from her own hands with a dishtowel and returned to the stove where silver pots of cubed potatoes boiled, kernels of corn stewed, and leafy spinach simmered in butter. Mom went to the right of her and stirred the corn with a wooden spoon. Her shoulders slouched and I knew she was exhausted after our long drive. I turned on the water to wash my hands so I could relieve her. It would take my mind off what had happened outside, and it would put me in good graces with her and Grandma. That’s when Amy stepped from the washroom at the right of the stove and stopped at Mom’s side.

“I can do that, Mom,” she said. “You should sit and relax … maybe take a nap.” She embraced Mom for a moment, then took the stirring spoon from her and turned her attention to the pots on the stove.

“Thank you, sweetie,” Mom said. She stretched and released a yawn before heading in the direction of the living room.

“You’re such a dear,” Grandma said to Amy.

“With Daddy not around, I do what I can to help,” my sister said in that falsetto voice she uses when she tries to be better than the rest of us.

Whatever.

I quietly mimicked her words about helping while I scowled out the window above the sink and watched Lenny trudge from the blueberry patch, carrying his bowls of berries. There was no sign of any ugly, pony-size Rottweilers around.

He looked unhappy, so I washed the paste from my hands, dried them on Grandma’s dishtowel, and hurried and met him at the screen door.

“Sorry I didn’t wait for you,” I said through the screen while I thought of a fib that could make things better between us. “I had to use the bathroom.”

His expression softened, but a frown remained on his forehead.

“Are you gonna let me in?” he asked as he held up the two bowls of blueberries.

I started to open the door when Grandpa stepped into view and stood beside Lenny. He carried a coil of white clothesline around a shoulder and held a half-eaten sandwich on wheat bread. The smell of mustard and onion wafted through the screen.

“Help me string this clothesline when you’re done with those berries,” he said to Lenny before proceeding to the side yard and the nearest T-post of clothesline. Someone had hung a colorful display of shirts and pants to dry on the two lines there.

I opened the door and let Lenny inside. He brushed past me and entered the kitchen.

Before the door closed, I caught a glimpse of a large animal standing at the edge of the woods beyond the blueberry patch. I pressed my face to the screen and stared long at the large black dog that stared back at me with its fiery eyes.

You see blood!

The words came like thunder and sent me sprawling on my backside. I hurried upright but the dog was gone again when I looked through the screen.

“And stay gone,” I said. “I don’t ever want to see you again.”

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter